Have you ever wondered why some business leaders build thriving enterprises while others flounder, or how customers choose which products to buy? As president of business strategy consultants Birnbaum Associates, as well as publisher and editor of a business newsletter, Bill Birnbaum certainly has had reason to consider these questions. In his new book, Strategic Thinking: A Four Piece Puzzle, Birnbaum shares some of the strategic lessons he has learned over the years and offers suggestions for improving your business’s bottom line.
Birnbaum believes there are four fundamental factors or pieces that make up the strategic puzzle: (1) instead of trying to accomplish everything, remain focused; (2) develop and maintain an intimate understanding of your market and its customers; (3) care about and nurture your people; and (4) carefully manage your processes. The book is divided into four parts, each of which concentrates on one of the four pieces of the puzzle.
Part I, “Focus,” consists of four chapters stressing the importance of discovering “Key Success Factors.” These are not set factors; instead, Birnbaum suggests the involvement of the entire planning team in discussing any possible factors until a consensus is reached. Part I also emphasizes the importance of asking the question “why,” noting the great results that doing so often yields. Birnbaum suggests that a key element of focusing is familiarity with your company’s SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) and using it to your advantage.
There are four chapters in Part II, “Markets,” which discuss examining your marketplace and product and your relationship with your customers. Here we learn about the “Product Life Cycle” and its four phases: introduction, growth, maturity and decline. Birnbaum advises that you study your product in order to determine the business strategies that are appropriate for each phase. Certainly, strategies will change. It is crucial to be able to quickly recognize when a product moves into a new phase.
Part III, “People,” is about leadership. No matter how great a business strategy is, implementation is key to success. It is therefore of utmost importance to have the respect and dedication of your employees. Birnbaum believes that the only way to have that is to respect and care about your employees first. There are many ways to foster goodwill among your employees. One of the six chapters in Part III discusses building knowledge in your organization. There it is suggested that if employees are encouraged to expand and learn, they will feel more like part of a team and will likely care more about the success of your product.
Part IV, “Process,” discusses the processes and systems involved in running a business. In these seven chapters, we learn about the “80-20 rule” and “diminishing returns,” as well as the importance of knowing when to use these and other processes. We also learn about money-saving strategies in a chapter entitled “Get the Lead Out.” Here, Birnbaum suggests that getting rid of dead weight might not just save money, but also improve the company’s bottom line. He advises looking for problems like products and services that are not contributing their fair share to profits, or streamlining the products offered so that there are fewer product options.
In addition to the four main parts, Birnbaum includes two appendices that also contain useful information. Appendix A discusses the mission statement and its importance. It also suggests how to develop an effective mission statement. Appendix B concentrates on reinventing the strategic planning process and keeping up with the ever-changing needs of customers.
Throughout the book, Birnbaum uses graphs and charts to illustrate his points. He also breaks out main points into subparagraphs so that they are easier to recognize and remember. The writing is clear and not bogged down by business terminology that would make the book a challenging read for those new to the subject. There are numerous practical examples, making it relatively easy to understand the four pieces of the puzzle and how they fit together.
Strategic Thinking: A Four Piece Puzzle is a fresh perspective on how to be successful in the business world. For the most part, the underlying advice is not original. There are, after all, certain fundamental elements to running a business. However, Birnbaum approaches the subject in a fresh new way. He does not try to force readers to do things his way, nor does he come across as a motivational speaker. Instead, he simply offers a variety of strategies for different situations and leaves the rest to your discretion.
Strategic Thinking: A Four Piece Puzzle Author: Bill Birnbaum Publisher: Douglas Mountain, 2004 Pages: 212 ISBN: 1-932632-13-1
by Soroya Bran